The frames of reference of young people and pension funds are miles apart. Pensions are a non-issue where young people are concerned and pension funds in their turn cannot manage to reach young people. Six industry-wide pension funds in the Netherlands funds (ABP, PMT, PME, SPF, SPOV and PGGM) representing approximately 50% of young people between 18 and 30 years of age in employment, refused to accept this and decided to confront the issue directly.

The Check it! project, orchestrated by the Youth Section of the National Federation of Christian Trade Unions (CNV Jongeren), was launched in March 2005. Check it! saw the pension funds engaging in an open dialogue with the young people at their grass roots. The young people checked their pension funds and delivered blunt criticism, but also came up with surprising solutions to close the yawning gap between young people and pension funds.

The pension funds implemented the best ideas before the summer of 2006 and these have had a lasting impact on the communication policies of the funds, who acted with unprecedented decisiveness and speed in this respect.

“Three-quarters of young Dutch people have scarcely any idea what they will have to live off when they stop working. A pension is really something for ‘later’ where they are concerned and they just don’t feel like thinking about it right now.” (Results of the young people’s pension test developed by CNV Jongeren and commissioned by the Dutch Association of Industry-wide Pension Funds).

Other important findings were that young people have no idea what they pay for their pension, but do assume they will have a generous pension well before they reach 65, and that young participants feel absolutely no involvement with their pension fund.

These disturbing results were the reason why Check it! was launched. Motivated by a deeply-felt social responsibility, the various pension funds wanted to connect up to how their young participants perceive their surroundings. This target group is an important cornerstone of the Dutch pension system, after all. And what is more, today’s young people are tomorrow’s senior

First, young people from the participating funds’ grass roots were recruited to take part in Check it! Following a short course on pensions, the young people developed their own quick scan and used it to ‘grade’ their fund on communication, participation and substance. The results were discussed in improvement groups, in which the young people and the staff of their pension funds searched together for solutions to make the fund ‘youth friendly’. In March last year, the most important results from Check it! were presented to the outside world in a joint congress.

The overall objective of Check it! was to involve young people more in pensions. What interests them and what does not? How do you approach young people? What is important to them?

The conclusion is that pension communications are too boring, too complicated and too long. The general recommendations are to keep information short and simple, and to talk to young people about their personal situation and in their own language.

Each pension fund translated specific recommendations into their own youth activities. ABP started get-togethers for young participants. In this “back to your future show,” the highlights of their pension were explained to them in a compulsive and simple way. Furthermore, a new communication concept was developed for new participants - an active approach from ABP, providing only the most important information. Anyone wanting more information can find it on the special website for young people,

The Pension Fund for Metalworking and Mechanical Engineering (PMT) made a striking events brochure and posters for young people, with intriguing texts and lots of present-day images that did not shrink from a hint of unclothed femininity. A special youth edition of PMT’s quarterly magazine is also planned with young people involved in its production.

The industry-wide pension fund for the Metalektro, the mechanical and electrical engineering industries (PME) developed a poster campaign that strikes a provocative and warning tone, as requested by the young people themselves. The posters connect to a special website,, with a link to the PME website. The pay-off has also been ‘youthed up’ and the language in the brochures has been greatly simplified.

PGGM constructed a special youth website, at the request of young people, using plenty of pink and purple, since the target group is predominantly female. The site,, includes fun elements and special offers as well as basic pension information.

The Railway Pension Fund (SPF) and the Public Transport Pension Fund (SPOV) opted for a face-to-face approach and their roadshows focus on young people.

In addition, SPF Beheer (the implementing organisation) has taken the remarkable initiative of getting together with a number of pension funds (ABP, PGGM, PMT, Cordares, Interpolis, industry-wide pension fund for housepainters and decorators and Mn Services) to launch a multimedia youth campaign last year, with important roles for a (young) Dutch celebrity, radio DJ and television presenter Ruud de Wild, and the internet.

Young people are approached in places where they can be found. From bus shelters to weblogs on the internet and YouTube clips, which can also be watched on the mobile phone. The participating funds and administrators aim to add to the pension awareness of all young people in The Netherlands and therefore focus on young people in general.

The response of the young people to the above initiatives has been exceptionally enthusiastic. Check it! has triggered a huge change in the pension world, which is of real significance in the renewal and continuing existence of the Dutch pension system.

Gerda Smits is senior staff member, communications, at the Dutch Association of Industry-wide Pension Funds, VB and Wieke Everts is communications adviser at Wieks Communicatie